Benedict Auer, O.S.B.
September 25, 1992
Kilian Malvey, O.S.B.
Deus Absconditus as Muse: An Approach to the Writing of Poetry as a Form of Contemplative
Prayer for those who live with the Hidden God
The purpose of this dissertation is to study the writing of poetry as a creative process
that transforms a poem into a form of contemplative prayer. Using scripture and theology,
the dissertation creates a model and illustrates this model with the writing of a number of poets, both dead and living, for their insights into this act of
writing as a form of contemplative prayer. And then using this model as a guide
the author has created a collection of poems which focus on the Deus Absconditus
and the passionate search for this Hidden God.
The dissertation starts with an overview that is an introduction to the various trends
in spirituality today which utilize poetry in their search for God. It is an attempt
to place this use of poetry within the context of the creative process. It looks at various poets and writers to see how they view what they do not in depth, but
to focus on the many and varied ways in which poetry has been used.
The first chapter is a study of the use of poetry in the wisdom literature of the
Bible. The emphasis is on Ecclesiastes and Psalms. These poetic works will set
up a Biblical model for the search of the Hidden God. Chapter Two analyzes two early
searches for the Hidden God: Gregory of Nyssa and The Cloud of Unknowing
. Chapter Three studies the modern Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, and his concern
for the use of poetry as a form of prayer. And Chapter Four is an attempt to define
contemplation using the works of Thomas Merton. Chapter Five completes the first
section of this thesis by creating a model using the first four chapters of the dissertation.
The model combines the insights gathered from Scripture, the Medieval thinkers, Rahner,
and Merton into a working model using the pilgrimage motif.
In Chapter Six, the author illustrates how Gerard Manley Hopkins and Rainer Maria
Rilke used their poetry to search for the Hidden God and how this was a form of contemplative
prayer for them. Hopkins as a Jesuit priest wrote his "Terrible Sonnets" despairing of the face of God, and Rilke sought God, but was always afraid he might
find God. Chapter Seven continues to illustrate the model by studying three additional
poets: Antonio Machado (Spain), Czeslaw Milosz (the Polish poet), and William Strafford (an Oregon poet). Using letters, journals, and poems, the author illustrates how
they use their writing as a form of prayer.
The remainder of the thesis applies the model to the poetry of the author. Ninety
original poems are included in the text. The poems all center around the Hiddenness
of God. The conclusion points out that the model does not make Christian the poets,
but rather allows one to see poetry as one form of pilgrimage toward the Hidden God.
The implications of this study are seen in the analysis of poetry as a form of prayer.
Little has been done up to this point on this topic, and this work shows that poetry
can be used as a form of contemplative prayer in the journey or pilgrimage toward a God who remains hidden. This dissertation includes some suggestions for spiritual
direction, retreat work, and insights into the writing of poetry.